Nicholas Quirke was really starting to question what the Chinese called a park on 4 July 2020 and was trying to think how broad the description of a park could be in the UK. After cycling to collect the car in the west of Beijing from an utterly desolate and tawdry location, they headed to another scenic locale in the West Mountains Badachu Park in the range of 3 peaks, Taihang, Pingpo and Lushi mountains and notable for the 8 temples that cover the slopes. It was only 17 Km from Beijing’s city centre and it was clearly an accessible spot for Beijingers to get to which was apparent as they had to queue for 30 minutes to get into the car park. Of course their visit meant climbing again and her was not sure he had it in him. During Peng’s holiday they had done so much to compensate for the cancellation of travel plans that he was feeling a little weary and the humid weather didn’t help with his desire to reach the top and the top temple. There was a cable car to the summit but the decided against it and they made their way up the slopes and through the 6 temples where he was surprised to see people were actually now worshipping at. Face masks had mostly been dropped but it was polite to wear three in the shrines. progressed was slow but by the time they reached the the 6th temple he was actually feeling more positive about the final climb. He did find the commercialism of the sites a little crass and distasteful and could not decide if this was due to the bright and gaudy colours of the goods that were on sale Or if it was because it was in the temple space themselves. He was amused to to find a family picnicking on concrete outside the toilet. Maybe there was a bowel issue here. The effort as always was worth it, from the beautiful buildings, the luscious views to the 18 varieties of ancient trees, some over 500 years old. It was all captivating and took him to a completely different world to the one he was used to inhabiting. Despite the crowds there was a sense of peace, though of course, that could be attributed to balmy temperatures that were clearly affecting everyone. They rejected the swifter methods of descending, the cable car and the bob sleigh and had a leisurely stroll down the mountain but by the time they reached base, his stomach was grumbling considerably and thankfully the restaurant, though it was more like a canteen, was vegan. They finished eating and headed home. Though he had been packing over the past couple of days there was still a fair bit to do to make sure he was ready for his departure from Beijing the next day. They rounded off the night with another animation from Pixar which was utterly charming, though he had no idea what it was called. He knew sleep would come quickly the moment his head touched the pillow and he was relieved that his assumption was correct.
Nicholas Quirke was devastated to wake on 3 July 2020 to the news that the beautiful, luminous actress, Polly Swinscoe, whom he had directed in The Tempest and Heartbreak House, and whom he was proud to count as a friend, had died. It was news of yet another shining light being extinguished, that for second time since he had been in China, had left him feeling bereaved and at a loss. The day was consequently spent with him feeling inattentive and unsettled and ultimately he was unable to get any work done. He went out after lunch to buy some new underwear as his cotton draws were too uncomfortable in the humid heat he was living through. He headed to Joy city at Xidan and was pleased to see Uniqlo had a sale and he was able to get some very light nei ku for his trip. He felt obliged, as Peng was now working from home with his new role, to stay away and so cycled to InWe at Beijing fun for tea. It was busier than usual and he was intrigued by the gentleman at the table next to him who was using a hand fan and reading a book but was stood up and wandering around as he performed this task. There was also a couple whom had set themselves up in front of a camera and were talking. He was trying to edit a film which was not downloading from iCloud and had now been infuriating him for weeks and continued to provoke annoyance. He had agreed to another haircut with Peng and headed home where he spent a sad but lovely and reassuring talk with Sophia, who gave him the details of Polly’s tragic demise。 The barbers were closed and they had to try another branch of Mobe where he was delighted to see they recognised him and said hello. He had however decided to leave it for another couple of weeks before getting shorn again and instead read and waited for Peng. They went for a supper of noodles, a bun and a delicious desert in a fast food Chinese restaurant. They then came home where they watched the lighthearted animation Spies in Disguise. Disconsolate from the news of the day he took to bed.
Nicholas Quirke remembered his first of the month ritual when he woke on 1 July 2020 and messaged his sons immediately, making sure they got a virtual, if not physical Pinch and punch. It was also Peng’s first day in his new job, as well as the 4 month anniversary of his arrival in Beijing on the 1 March. It was hard to believe that he had spent so long in the city which he was now beginning to think of as home, though as always his thoughts were on further travel and it now looked like the outbreak in Beijing was under control and he could start to prepare for the planned trip he had to postpone. One of the key requirements now of travel in China, if you were coming from Beijing, was to have a nucleic acid test to demonstrate you were free of the virus. His mission for the day was to find a hospital where the test could be done and relatively quickly. He checked on the WeChat group ‘Safe and Sane’ and discovered the research, that day, of a guy, Jay who was leaving Beijing who had identified a hospital which was charging 120 Yuan (£13) rather than 600 which he noticed other expats were paying. The hospital was a couple of Km away and he was happy to get back on a bike and attempt to get the test. Miraculously the process was extremely quick and simple, the only hinderance being his lack of understanding of Mandarin and it was trail and error of showing bits of documentation and using google translate. He had to register at the hospital first and was given a card, before heading to the testing area which, thankfully, mercifully was empty he was directed to a booth, sat down, had a swab shoved down his throat which was momentarily painful and sent on his way. the whole process less than 25 minutes. The results would be available within 24 hours. He mentally made a note to learn specific words and questions in Mandarin to ensure he did not have to waste time in future being bewildered by the information that was required. ‘What is your phone number?’. ‘Where do you live?’. ‘What is your date of Birth?’ Etc. Pleased with himself for having accomplished this first step he stopped at the now familiar Tea House ‘1920’ for refreshment and to further research his new travel plans. Once he was back at the apartment Peng assisted him with getting a flight to Shanghai and unbelievably was able to book a ticket for 220 yuan. He added a hotel booking and assuming his test would be negative his travel was now guaranteed. Having completed these tasks, they headed out for vegan Pizza at Gung Ho in Tai Koo Li. He was feeling very hungry and thirsty and as well as a pizza, they shared Sweet potato chips and a Vegan Chicken Burger and ordered a beer. When he asked if the the beer was vegan there was some confusion as they said all beers were vegan and he had to explain that fish bladders were used to clarify some beers. He was not in the mood to be argumentative and let it pass, enjoying instead the western style repast they treated themselves to. The day had also heralded 2 potential job prospects, a one off essay writing challenge on Cookery which he accepted and a English online coaching role. Neither would bring in lots of money, but it was a start. When he got home he was involved in an online chat with the English school and a couple of potential clients. It was an interesting discussion on the role of LVMH in fashion and was an indicator of the type of work he would be expected to be involved in. He had already set up a TikTok account to endeavour to develop his credentials with the students. It was past 11.30 by the time he got to bed and he would have expected a calm nights sleep but he woke several times and eventually at 5.30 am woke with a start On 2 June 2020 from a dream where he had sliced off his features in one piece with a large sharp knife. It had not caused him any pain other than confusion about how it would fit back on his face without the join showing. It was like having a mask, but the mask was his face. He would have to analyse carefully what this might mean. Nicholas had eaten to excess the past couple of days and It was smoothie for breakfast, he cleaned the flat, made smoothie for lunch and in a repeat of the previous day made his way to the Beijing Friendship Hospital to collect his results. It was again another simple process where he went to the reception, handed over his receipt and they gave him a reference number which he took to a machine, scanned it in and his results were printed out for him. A blissfully simple procedure. He was, of course, delighted too that he was negative and there were no signs of the virus in his bloodstream. It required another celebration tea at 1920, where he sat and took the opportunity to start the essay he had agreed to write. He made up an asparagus and pea soup for their supper and was delighted by the outcome and decided to write the recipe down to make it again. It was film night again and they watched Ordinary lives which was a depressing tale of a couple dealing with a breast cancer Diagnosis, with Liam Nessom and the brilliant Lesley Manville. It was another miserable tale to go sleep on and it was hard to cheer himself up, but some tomfoolery and blog writing did the trick and he finally gave himself up to the night.
Nicholas Quirke felt sufficiently recovered after his day of rest on the 29 June 2020 to venture into the mountains again on 30 June 2020. Though he called it a day of rest he as he had for the most part remained indoors, it had still been an active day, with its zenith spending 1hour and 10 minutes on the Treadmill followed by a 30 minute massage in the chair. He recalled how being in the chair when he arrived in the apartment felt like torture, with every muscle tensed and resistant to the prodding, pressing, pushing and pinching the implement inflicted on him. To him, it was a sign of how far he had come, how relaxed, healthy and happy he was, that the chair now offered a comfortable, even pleasurable time, though were still moments when the mechanics pushed too fiercely into his feet and recalled him to the consciousness of where he was. With that day behind him and a smoothie overflowing with greens to start the new, the day, in its glorious sunshine promised to be another insightful experience. They headed to the West mountains with the intention of climbing 2 peaks. Though it was not an arduous climb, the temperature was soaring and it made or a sweaty and sometimes uncomfortable journey, Yet it was worth the effort as the views of Beijing from the summits, particularly from the interestingly named Rock of Ghost Laughing were quite spectacular.after reading the peak of the first mountain he was a little disappointed by the views of the interior of the mountains but once they traversed to the second peak, on which he was enlightened on an idiosyncrasy that had puzzled him on a number of occasions when seeing Chinese men of varying ages walking backwards by learning the benefits of possessing such an apparently worthless skill. By walking backwards up a hill and changing to forwards helped to relax the muscles as a whole different set were bought into play depending on forward or aft, he felt the benefit after nearly 3 hours of climbing. The exercise also allowed the view, normally behind, to be completely absorbed; it was a practiced he could get used to. It took them 4 hours to complete the trail they had gone on and were more than ready for a late lunch at another Buddhist restaurant in an exclusive ancient park area. The food was delicious, particularly the Chengdu style Jiaozi and once again the eyes were ‘bigger than the belly’ and they had to take home a dish of bamboo shoots and a plate of Bing. the car had to go to the garage for repairs to rear bumper that had been knocked and scratched this was in the west and convenient to drop off but drained by the activity they got a Didi home rather than brave the subway. It was the last day of Peng’s holiday and the day was rounded of by watching the end of the eccentric and ultimately tame Indian horror “Bulbbul’, He had managed to stay awake but once in bed he sank into a deep slumber almost immediately.
Nicholas Quirke was truly impressed by the location Peng sourced for their day out on 28 June 2020. It had everything he enjoyed. Beautiful scenery, mountains water, defunct post war industrial architecture and Art. Jinhai Lake (Golden River) , the decommissioned Haizi Reservoir, lay to the East of Beijing, was a 27 constructed in the early 1950s and has been turned into a recreational and sightseeing area including mountain hiking and lakeside vacationing. The expansive wall of the dam had the largest mural he had ever seen and was a tribute to Picasso with an image of the man himself and numerous key paintings. It was an impressive start and he looked forward to seeing what lay beyond the wall. Once again they travelled up an escalator and by the time they reached the top wonderful, natural sights that had lain hidden from view were revealed. The lake may have been man made, but the surrounding mountains and islands it had created were really beautiful and added to the natural splendour was the wonderful design and colours of the now decaying edifice. They took a paddle boat round the dam which was surprisingly hard work but fun, then a round boat trip to the two islands, one of which had been turned into a holiday getaway and the other a hiking wilderness. There Still seemed to be a lot of people staying at home due to the recent outbreak so it was a fairly calm and quiet time in the resort. The weather was glorious, though the early morning had covered beijing in a mysterious grey smog, on the water everything sparkled and shimmered in the sun. They encountered no one else as they hiked through the wilderness and up to craggy promontories. Nicholas particularly loved the sight of the red flag fluttering in the wind against the blue sky and could not stop photographing it. As they left he goyt an opportunity to walk on the dam and the subsequently three mural and it was the first timer he had walked on a painting, or that is what he believed, he almost felt himself to be part of it. The journey home included a stop in Pinggu it have the ETC (Electronic Toll Card) reader fitted and a stop at a Mexican Restaurant four supper. He was so tired that once he was showered, reclining comfortably on the sofa, and watching an Indian Horror film he fell asleep.
Nicholas Quirke was embarking on another trip to the north on 27 June 2020 and the Yanqing Scenic area, though this time to locate an ancient site of Cave Dwellings. It was an appropriate follow up to his previous days adventure to investigate the early days of man. There was much speculation as to when these caves dated from, but there is no doubt that it was a more sophisticated time with clearly defined living quarters in the rooms, homes carved into the rock. It was a fun and wonderful exploration through the historic chambers and plenty of role playing opportunities through the site. The temperature was high and he took his time on the climbs though they weren’t to onerous and it was wonderfully cool in the caves. There was a small ladder to get I to be of the caves and as he bounded up the steps into the cave, Peng Overheard a family comment on the adventurous spirit of the Lao wai. Once they had were back down the mountain they headed east through the spectacular mountain range to the familiar environs of the Changping area, home of the Ming tombs, to visit the remains of a Ming bridge in The Sea of Flowers under the Seven Arch Bridge on the Sacred Way. They passed the vendors and entered what was literally a gorgeous ocean of yellow and purple and green nestling in the foothills of the mountains. Nicholas was entranced by the colours and scenery. He played with his camera, capturing both time lapse and slow motion images of the flowers and insects. It was a familiar pattern for the evening when they got home and once supper had been devoured, a film was watched and then the call to sleep was obeyed.
Nicholas Quirke was irritable when he woke on the morning of 24 June 2020 and everything from the sound of voices on the radio to having breakfast, served to annoy and frustrate him. It was an early start to their destination and he realised too that his disappointment in not being away and now in Hangzhou was really getting to him. The compromise trip was to drive out into the countryside he was now familiar with to a Dragon Escalator on the side of a mountain. On their arrival with barely another person in sight they walked to the location through a deserted tawdry play park and a desolate, derelict street of closed decaying shops and restaurants and his spirits sank further. This looked utterly appalling. A rusting iron frame clinging to the mountainside added to the sense desolation. An intimidatingly vast Dam, apparently one of the largest in China, and the colourful, gaudy Dragon snaking down the side of the mountain were impressive and a little frightening. He entered the dragons mouth and traveled up numerous escalators, glimpsing the austere sight of grey concrete through the distressed Perspex windows, with dissatisfaction coursing through his veins. On exiting he saw still cable cars lurking eerily in the air and a parade of empty pleasure boats lined up on the dock, they were hurried to a waiting boat to take them through the gorge and with a handful of other other passengers the cruise began. Maybe the word ‘Pleasure Boat’ promised an experience akin to a desultory ride up the river Thames on a rainy day , but whatever was in his mind had not prepared him, in any way, for the stunning, natural wonderland that he had just ventured into. Everything, from the deep Turquoise shades of the water, the searing, sharp, crenelated sides of the seemingly never ending gorge, the vista of vegetation clinging to the vertical slopes that opened up with every twist and turn of the river that over millennia had eroded and shaped this valley into one of natures truly spectacular visions, served to astound, delight and fill him with awe. It was a feeling that stayed with him all day as they first climbed one of the highest pinnacles in the gorge to view from above the splendours of the gorgeous Gorge. They found themselves on an illicit path, a narrow promontory from which an old tight rope was suspended across the gorge with a bike from and age old performance remained attached. Once they had returned to the depths of the valley they went out into the gorge on a rowing where, in the idyllic setting they ate Zongzi in honour of Dragon Boat Festival. The trip would not have been complete if they didn’t take the cable cars to the top of another peak which they discovered led to an even higher point and temple and he found himself climbing another mountain and celebrating the magnificent views from a dizzying height. The day had turned from sullen to splendour and despite the fatigue he managed to carry a mountain of parcels, including his GoPro replacement before crashing out on the sofa and watching the end of The Lighthouse which he had found mostly tedious and completely the wrong tone to end the day on
Nicholas Quirke was in dangerous territory on 23 June 2020 when Peng had to take his car to have the windows tinted at the car Showrooms he had bought it from in the Fengtai district. Notable as the area is home to the Xinfadi Agricultural Wholesale Market, which provides more than 90% of Beijing’s fruits and vegetables and covers an area of 112 hectares. It is claimed to be the largest wholesale food market in Asia, and it is here where the recent outbreak of COVID19 in Beijing was initiated. It was evident, as they drove to the garage through Fengtai, from the dearth of vehicles and people on the roads and pavements that this area was still suffering the shock waves of the potential 2nd wave. Even more shocking was driving past the market itself, which was immense, and seeing it shuttered and policed made him think of all the vendors that worked there and how the livelihoods of thousands was again under threat, and how the food chain in Beijing was suffering. Oddly, as it was primarily Fruit and Veg this meant that being a Vegan was actually now a disadvantage, with vegetable dishes in establishments being off the menu as the main source was now broken. Once the car windows had been tinted they got out of the area, wearing face masks, even in the car, and drove to Livat Mall to have some tea and lunch. As one of the first malls he had been to on his own after quarantine it was memorable to him for virtually no shops open and no customers any where. He had subsequently seen it with customers and shops open and he was now witnessing it in another guise with the shops all open now but no customers again; people too worried to venture into public spaces. Once again that day his thoughts turned to the havoc COVID19 was wreaking on peoples livelihoods. It was depressing to see the empty mall again, depressing to told that the dishes they wanted to eat weren’t available, depressing to consider the worldwide deaths, the worldwide slump attributable to this disease. They did however get very creative with the dishes they were ordering and aside from a favoured Xian style noodle dish, they ate some vibrant yellow buns and finished with some tasty, mouth watering, incredibly fattening, fried cake. It was imperative then that Nicholas got some prime exercise and walked 7 km on the treadmill. He collapsed on the sofa to enjoy another unmemorable film before slumber.
Nicholas Quirke was making an early start to the day on 26 June 2020 to go south west of Beijing to see the site and accompanying museum of ‘Peking Man’ an archeological discovery in 1927 of human life 700,000 years previously. It was good to head in a complete alternative direction than the one they usually found themselves on. The majority of the treasured sights of Beijing lay north, or Bei as it was called in mandarin. Heading south west, or Xi Na gave him a broader sense of the city and it was apparent how underdeveloped the outskirts of these areas were. He noticed immediately that large areas of land and properties lay empty and derelict and the familiar soaring skyscrapers and eccentric buildings were missing, and now, with the new building regulations the government had imposed restricting the construction of super tall and Inharmonious buildings, the skyline would not be marred. The closer they got to the foothills of the mountain range where the remains had been found the poverty of the district became even more apparent. There was no spectacular scenery here, but it was certainly a spectacular history both geological and human. It seemed to him that the older he got, the more a sense of time overwhelmed him and as he stood in the caves where early man had lived and slept 750,00 years previously made him feel so utterly irrelevant, a cough, a spit, in the journey of the planet earth and mankind. The relentless rhythm of life was never as evident to him than as they walked, climbed, through the archeological site that was still being mined for its treasures and the stories they told. Stories which were further elaborated on at the fancy museum that had been built to hold the fossils and artefacts; the skulls and cranial fragments that had been found and pieced together to create the astonishing picture of mankind’s development. On the journey home they stopped at a mall which had a particularly amazing IMAX cinema that Peng had frequented yet now, since January had lain dormant. Nicholas once again felt a wave of horror over the terrible waste COVID19 had ravaged on the world and he longed, yearned to sit in the dark of a cinema and theatre again and have stories fed to him. The closure of these palaces of fun was not something he had ever foreseen and the effects on everyone in every aspect of the industry was devastating. They dined in the mall at a Chinese and then headed back to the apartment. The evening film was a heartbreaking story, ‘So Long, My Son’, a contemporary tale of a Chinese couple and how they deal with a modernising Chinese society, though its 3 hour length started to take its toll and sleep called before he saw the end.
Nicholas Quirke was once again facing major technical problems on 25 June 2020. Posting his blog with video and photos was becoming an almost impossible task. He was getting further and further behind due to issues with iCloud and slow server response with WordPress. The weather forecast was stormy and as he was particularly weary after a day of climbing mountains and rowing boats, staying in to try and resolve the burgeoning problems seemed a sensible and smart thing to do. It was his cleaning day too and a growing mountain of ironing was beckoning. It was a definitely a day of domesticity. It was also Dragon Boat Festival and he made a good wish video which he put out on every piece of social network he could. It would certainly help fill a gap in the blog publication. As it was another day of staying inside he felt it imperative that he exercise and once again he took to the treadmill and watched another episode of ‘Defending Jacob’ as he did. Peng’s day had been a Pointless trip to have a free neighbourhood COVID19 test but didn’t have the patience to wait in queue had been quietly suffering with toothache and took off to the emergency dental hospital. He caught up with his mother and sister and was happy to hear lives back home were improving. Another film, ‘Taking Shelter’ was an engrossing though depressing look at mental illness and suited the lethargic mood bought the day to its close.